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When a child supposedly speaks ill of a parent

How an attorney should react when a client’s child speaks ill of the client is often dependant upon things young attorneys (and often even experienced attorneys) fail to consider.  Stepping back and analyzing the source and the accuracy of the report is the necessary first step.

Let’s consider a situation in which a third-party reports that the child claims that one’s client is beating him.  There are three likely actualities:

1) The third-party is inaccurately reporting what the child is saying

2) The third-party is accurately reporting but the child is lying

3) The third-party is accurately reporting but the child is telling the truth

Each of these three potentialities calls for a different legal strategy.  If the third-party is inaccurately reporting what the child is saying the best strategy is to attack the third-party.  If the third-party is accurately reporting but the child is lying one needs to determine why the child might be saying inaccurate and negative things about one’s client.  Is the child being coached?  Is the child mistaken?  Is the child lying to manipulate the situation?  Often it requires a counselor or forensic examiner to determine why the child is doing this.  And if the child is telling the truth the legal strategy needs to become one of remedying the client’s condition so that this behavior doesn’t occur in the future.

Choosing which of these three potentialities to focus on initially and most strongly requires consultation with the client.  If the third-party has motivation to lie, attacking the reporter is a useful strategy.  If the third-party has no motivation to lie (or if the client has personally heard the child making the allegation) attacking the third-party is not the best option and one probably needs to investigate if and why the child is lying.

However, merely trying to prove the child is lying without explaining why the child might be lying is a poor strategy.  Even if the child is lying the court will still want to understand why the child is saying inaccurate but negative things about one’s client, especially if the child’s lies implicate safety concerns.  Failure to acknowledge and ameliorate the inherent caution of family court judges in the face of a child’s claim of abuse is unlikely to result in a satisfying outcome for the client.

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